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October 2008
LOVE FOR SALE | An Interview with Essence Atkins

An Interview with Essence Atkins
by Wilson Morales

October 20, 2008
Since ‘Half and Half’ was taken off the tube after WB and UPN network (now CW) merged in 2006, Essense Atkins has been working consistently to reinvent herself. She recently did a play, and already has completed three films. One of those films, ‘Love for Sale’, is slated to come out on DVD on Oct. 21st and stars Jackie Long, Jason Weaver, Mya, Melyssa Ford, and Clifton Powell.

Hardworking and eager to get ahead, Trey (Jackie Long) just can’t seem to catch a break. Caught up in a dead end job, Trey wants to go to college, but the cash just isn’t there. When the girl of his dreams (singer Mya) gives him the brush off, Trey is willing to try just about anything to get his life on track. Opportunity knocks in the form of Katherine, a seductive older woman (Melyssa Ford) willing to “show him the money” in return for some very “personal delivery services.” Trey thinks he’s hit the jackpot, but things prove a lot more complicated than he anticipated. If Trey wants to follow his dreams, he’ll have to stop his life from spinning out of control first.

In speaking with Blackiflm.com, Atkins talks her role in the film, life after ‘Half and Half’ and her upcoming film projects.

What role do you play in the film?

Essence Atkins: My character’s name is Candace and she’s one of Melyssa Ford’s character’s best friends. We went to college together and we’re sorority sisters and I’m probably the ‘less’ together of the group.

What was the attraction to doing this?

EA: I thought the script was really cute, and a big part of it was that most of the cast had done plays and I wanted to work with Jason Weaver again. He was my co-star on ‘Smart Guy’. We played brother and sister for two years. I hadn’t seen him since the show ended in 1999, so it was great. He’s so talented and such a wonderful guy along with the rest of the cast.

What did you learn from working with director Russ Parr on this film?

EA: Russ is great. I have to say that the movie had a really small budget, but part of the reason why it was great to work with Russ is that he was extremely quick and extremely decisive. For an actor, it’s ideal. When a director is clear on what he wants and knows how to extracts the performance from the actors with a limited time schedule, it’s a great thing. He was really clear, in terms of his notes and the adjustment he wanted us to make as actors. I really couldn’t ask for someone to be more of a facilitator of the process. He was really great.

Most of the films, including TV shows, that you have done have been comedies. Do you see yourself as a comedic actress?

EA: No. I just see myself as an actress. I have a knack for comedy. I get that comedy is born out of truth and the best comedians are people that you can relate to and have a way of looking at the truth and exposing it in a way that makes you laugh. It really isn’t about antics and it really isn’t about being animated so much that it’s about finding the energy of the character and telling the truth and letting the audience see themselves and how they recognize that they have been in the same situation.

How’s life been for you since ‘Half and Half’ was cancelled?

EA: Life was very traumatizing for a minute. It was an interesting departure. We were cruising, and our ratings were great, and then all of a sudden, two networks merged, which hadn’t happen in the history of television, and we find ourselves out of a job at episode 91. We were 9 episodes away from the hallmark 100 which many shows try to get to. It was definitely unexpected. I loved, loved, and loved working on that show. I loved the people and the crew. We retained 90% of the crew from the pilot episode. That says a lot about the type of show we had and the environment we worked in. we got along famously. To this day, I’m still close with Chico Benymon and Valarie Pettiford, who played ‘Big Dee Dee’, my character’s mother, and Yvette Lee Bowser, the executive producer. So, I still have great relationships with them. I miss the show very much and miss working with those people, but it’s one of those things where the unexpected happens as people know. We are going through that right now with the economy and you have to find a way to learn a lesson from that and move on. It’s been great this last year. I did a play for five months on the road with some talented actors and in six months I have done three films.

What about Rachel True? Do you still keep in contact with her?

EA: Yes. I do. Rachel and I are actually neighbors. She lives like a mile and a half from me. We see each other doing common things like grocery shopping and other things.

I also see that you have another film coming soon called ‘N-Secure’?

EA: Yes. I shot that in Memphis, Tennessee. That’s a drama and I had the priviledge of being the lead female in that film. I’m working with Lamman Rucker and Denise Boute from ‘Why Did I Get Married?’, and they are great. Lamman and I worked on ‘Half and Half’ where he played Rachel’s boyfriend in the last season, and I’m reuniting again with Tempestt Bledsoe, who my very first job was on ‘The Cosby Show’, where I played her friend. It was great to work with her. She’s an incredible woman and actress. Working in Memphis with the people there was amazing. To do a film and have the mayor give you a welcoming invitation has been great.

What’s the story about?

EA: It’s a thriller and drama. It’s about what happens when a relationship goes array and when you stay in a relationship way past its expiration date.

How does it feel to be in lead role?

EA: It was daunting. I was excited and then I was scared. There’s a responsibility that comes with the role. You’re leading the way on this project. People have put their blood, sweat, and tears on this. Julius Lewis, who’s the executive producer on this project, raised the money to get it done and put all the pieces in place for two years. He also co-wrote the script and David Matthews, who was a producer on ‘Half and Half’, directed the film. I felt and knew that I would be in great hands, but at the same time, there was this overwhelming sense of responsibility. There’s a lot of riding on this, not just for me, but for everyone involved.

You’re also slated to be in the next Wayans Bros. film?

EA: Yes. It’s called ‘Dance Flick’ and it will come out in early ’09. It’s another spoof, and it’s hilarious and I’m the third lead in that. It’s one of their classic Wayans Bros. movies. People will put it on par with ‘There’s Something About Mary’ and ‘Scary Movie’. Both Shawn and Marlon are in the film, as well as their sister Kim.

Anything else?

EA: I’m about to go to Atlanta and do ‘Preacher’s Kid’ for Warner Bros.. It's basically about the world of gospel circuit plays and a girl who gets enticed by that world and leaves her background behind. She leaves her father, who's a pastor of a church, to go off in this world and what happens to her there. It's a musical, but I'm one of the few actors who is not singing in the film. I don't want people to think that I'm crossing over and ready to cut an album. Letoya Luckett and R & B singer Tank are also in the film and Stan Foster is directing. I'll be in Atlanta shooting the film until Thanksgiving.

Why should anyone pick up and see ‘Love for Sale’?

EA: Because it’s funny and it’s charming and it’s a great story. Folks are not killing each other and going bananas. It’s a tale of family and misunderstanding and love and communication and these are message that we don’t really explore when we should.


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